Live Review: Ministry of Sound’s Orchestrated brings nostalgic club vibes to Sydney’s State Theatre

Live orchestra club music experiences – be they film, video game, or pop music –  seem to have become the hottest ticket in town. As the traditional audience for classical orchestra instrumentation performances peters out, and orchestras struggle with relevance and sponsorship, they have found a way to reach new, younger consumers of their product: populist programming.

Amongst your Star Wars and Harry Potters, Zelda and Bowie interpretations, there’s a sizeable contingent of club music re-workings: Hacienda Classical recently headlined Glastonbury, and Flight Facilities and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra lit up The Domain as part of Red Bull Music Academy late last year. Slated for upcoming performances this year are Pete Tong & The Heritage Orchestra with Ibiza Classics; and Armand van Helden and the MSO with Symphonica (last year, MSO took to the stage with Mills + Derrick May).

Ministry of Sound Events (with Frontier Touring) most recently also picked up the baton; with their new production: Orchestrated – a show marrying the euphoria of the most loved dancefloor moments of the past 25 years with the magic of a live, 50-piece symphony orchestra, led by acclaimed director Guy Noble, with Australian dance legend Groove Terminator presiding over the decks. The event hit Hamer Hall in Melbourne, before chasing it up with this sold-out show at Sydney’s State Theatre last weekend.

A well-oiled crowd of mostly 30 and 40-somethings were clearly psyched to have left the kids with babysitters for a night on the tiles – crowding the Theatre bars early (a mum in front of me even cheekily requested two champagnes to be poured into one beer cup… outrageous!). The glorious, history-rich art-deco interior of the State Theatre provided a stately backdrop; and looked impressive packed out with people to the brim.  However, a reserved, BBC Proms-style cultural affair this most certainly was not: nobody made use of the allocated seating; most choosing to stand and dance (with a number taking to the aisles for more room) right from the get-go.

As the opening strains of each dance classic hit, the audience took huge delight in slowly realizing what familiar song it was – it was kind of like rifling through a shoebox of old MOS Annual compilation CDs and hitting play on tracks you’d completely forgotten existed… and still knew every word to. Room 5/Oliver Cheatham’s “Make Luv”, Faithless‘ “Insomnia” and Shapeshifters’ “Turn My World Around” drew the first big reactions of the night – the crowd delivered energy in spades.

Groove Terminator was positioned on a raised level at the back of the stage, enthusiastically DJing behind a black box emblazoned with the signature neon MOS globe emblem – in front of him was the orchestra, and in front of them; a troupe of four finger-clicking vocalists, that unfortunately lacked a bit of aesthetic appeal; decked out in reggae-hippie threads rather than performance blacks, they bore more than a slight resemblance to a wedding cover band.

As great as their vocal chops were, the stage production team dropped the ball here: the standing singer troupe took up half the stage and blocked most of the seated orchestra – giving the players the status of more of a glorified backing band than the main event. Some staging levels would have easily remedied this – and more advanced lighting design would have lent Orchestrated more drama and atmosphere –  likewise spotlights for some of the standout instrument solos were sorely lacking.

With 50 players on stage, space was always going to be at a premium; but it meant the guest vocalists suffered, too: when Melbourne’s Owl Eyes – a former vocalist for Flight Facilities – came onstage to sing Spiller’s “Groovejet: If This Ain’t Love”; she had barely any room to try and own the stage; trying to dance when wedged between the conductor and the backing vocalists led to an effect that was tantamount to poorly rehearsed choreography. Daniel Merriweather didn’t fare much better – the Mark Ronson album guest vocalist – clad in a glaring tropical pant-suit and sunglasses, performed a less than inspired take of a track that should have brought the house down – Armand van Helden’s “You Don’t Know Me”.

After a brief interval; the show eased its way into its second half; dispersing a tranquil vibe across the Theatre with some beautiful, classy, understated selections, vis a vis Moby’s “Porcelain”; “Strings of Life” and Robert Miles (R.I.P.)’s “Children”. The vibes were turned up high again with a huge crowd karaoke version of Evermore’s “It’s Too Late”, featuring a brilliant piano solo, and every smartphone in the building was whipped out for Fatboy Slim’s “Right Here, Right Now” – the track’s slow-build was incredibly well-suited to an extended orchestral intro featuring a tonne of glockenspiel action. The lighting guy seemed to wake up for this one too, going nuts on the rainbow strobes. Owl Eyes returned to the stage for a mesmerising performance of Delirium’s “Silence”, the whole theatre was engulfed in disco ball reflections; as the songstress handed the track’s soaring top notes with seasoned aplomb.

The female lead of our ‘MOS wedding singer troupe’ brought proceedings to a hugely climactic close, stepping into centre-stage to smash out a massive loved-up disco version of Candi Staton’s ‘80s house banger “You’ve Got the Love” (with most in the crowd likely familiar with Staton’s version, rather than the later Florence & The Machine cover).

MOS Orchestrated was a pretty good Friday night out – there were heaps of enjoyable moments. However, due to the afore-mentioned production let down, it just kind of fell short of eliciting shivers up the spine. In club speak, that would translate to: “Yeah, it gave me a decent buzz,” but not. “I totally lost my mind”.

The reviewer attended this show on August 18th.